GS-2, Indian Polity, Public Admin 2, Uncategorized

Towards cooperative federalism

Background:

  • The states of West Bengal and Kerala, have stopped all work on the National Population Register (NPR).
  • The Punjab Legislative Assembly has passed a resolution seeking amendments to the NPR form to ensure that it does not seek data that may be used for verification of citizenship.
  • Chief Ministers of at least 11 States have expressed their unwillingness to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Details:

Making of the NRC:

  • The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, provide for the process by which taluk level officers will prepare a National Register of Indian Citizens from the NPR.
  • The stated process is difficult to implement and is ridden with wide discretion for the officers in charge.
  • It involves, after the enumeration, procedures for citizenship verification and scrutiny, objections and appeals.
  • Officers may identify citizens as “doubtful” without any just cause and demand evidence of their citizenship.
  • The rules also permit any person to object to the inclusion of a name in the draft register.

Constitutional governance:

  • The Constitution provides more power to the Centre in order to enable the Union Government the power to bring errant States in line with the Constitution. The Constitution bars States from “impeding” the Union’s work and requires them to comply with central laws.
  • Article 355 entails that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
  • The Union is empowered to temporarily declare President’s rule in the State under Article 356 for restoring constitutional governance in a State.
  • The states are not empowered to hold the Union government accountable to its obligations under the Constitution.
  • In the backdrop of State governments raising concerns about the NPR, the Union government has insisted that States are under a constitutional duty to implement laws passed by Parliament.

State’s right to oppose:

Laws in line with constitutional provisions:

  • The state’s duty to obey laws passed by Parliament is dependent on whether the law is upholding the constitutional provisions or not. The states are well within their right to oppose central laws if they find it unconstitutional.
  • All constitutional actors including the State and Union legislators, State and Union governments and judges in the higher judiciary are duty-bound to uphold the provisions of the Constitution of India, by way of their oath. Thus, the states are duty-bound to oppose any unconstitutional laws.

India as a “Union of States”:

  • Article 1 of the Indian Constitution notes India’s identity as a “Union of States”. Thus, States, their legislatures and governments, are indispensable to the working of the Constitution of India.
  • The landmark S.R. Bommai judgment notes that States are not mere “appendages” of the Centre. Given the State’s exclusive and distinct legislative and administrative competences, they cannot be understood to be mere administrative agencies entrusted with enforcing Parliament’s laws.

Concerns:

  • The difference in opinions may lead to withholding cooperation in a federal scheme severely affecting the constitutional governance in India.

Way forward:

  • New institutional norms can play an important role in enhancing federal relations. The Union must develop newer conventions to foster cooperation.
  • The examples of countries that have strengthened federalism by actively including the provinces or states in national policy like Australia and Canada can act as guiding lights to India.
  • The Union government can include States in how decisions are made and enforced. This will not only help consider the state’s views and perspectives making it more representative, but will also aid in the successful implementation of the laws.

Thank you!

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